Log Cabin Chronicles

Royal Orr

I DREAM OF SKINKS

ROYAL ORR

Somewhere in my woods under a frozen tamarack root, cold as the gravel in which it sleeps, lies a five-lined skink. It's a juvenile - a bright blue tail curled by its scaly side, its yellow stripes vivid along a slim dark body.

And if it dreams in its cold-blooded, lizard lethargy, it dreams of going south where reptiles gambol in the temperate heat. The skink of my imagination (Eumeces fasciatus) is, according to everything I've read, just about the only native lizard that I have any chance of seeing here in Stanstead County. By comparison, nature has been generous to us in snakes and turtles and downright profligate in amphibians.

But lizards - whether iguanid, gecko, whiptail, or skink - are virtually all creatures of warmer climes than our hills and forests offer. And sighting even the five-lined skink is a long-shot for the local amateur naturalist. Watch for it on the forest floor where it feeds mostly on insects and their larvae.

A good-sized skink (approximately six inches in length) can tackle a small mouse for lunch and will climb at midday onto the lower reaches of tree trunks to bask its coppery scales. If you go in search of the skink, poking through the decaying leaf litter, stumps and logs that it favours, here's what you're much more likely to find:

Salamanders

Spotted salamanders (black with yellow or orange spots); blue-spotted salamanders (mottled black and blue); dusky salamanders (tan coloured with little black spots); two-lined salamanders (yellow to bright orange with black stripes); red-backed salamanders (charcoal gray with a large yellow, pink or red band down their backs);

Turtles

Wood turtles (red skin on neck and forelegs)

Frogs and toads

Wood frogs; American toads; gray treefrogs; spring peepers.

Snakes

I shouldn't be so squeamish, but I'd rather not get into the zoological sub-order serpentes. For some reason, salamanders and lizards are fine with me, but their legless cousins give me the willies. Simply to say that there are a handful of snake species native to our area. They hang out in skink habitat, too. If you spot an indigenous lizard this summer in Stanstead County (and we're talking forest, not lounge, dwellers here), let me know. Fifteen minutes of fame awaits you.

Until spring thaw, I'll sit here on the hill imagining the skinks in my neighborhood. I dream of lizards with their long, blue tails.

Royal Orr is a writer and broadcaster living in Hatley, Quebec.


Home | Stories | Columns


Copyright © 1999 Royal Orr/Log Cabin Chronicles/3.99